Since the 2007 release of “The Hundred Mile Diet”, the local food movement has really taken off, with government programs such as Buy BC lending support and grocery stores jumping on board by pointing out local products with signage and labelling. Local economic vitality benefits us all, and local agriculture provides jobs, food security and helps ensure productive farmland stays in production. But does local trump organic? Not according to Mendel Rubinson, who has been farming organically in the Deadman’s Valley since the 1980s. “There’s no food security in poisoning our land and water”, he argues.
One of the aims of eating local is to reduce “food miles” - the environmental impact of trucking food products thousands of miles from their origin. But the environmental impact of trucking food is nothing compared with the environmental damage caused by the production and use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, argues Rubinson. Firstly, there is the transportation of the raw chemical ingredients to the plant, then the actual production, which is responsible for air and water pollution wherever the factory is located, and then the transportation of the finished agricultural chemicals to wherever they will be used. The application of those fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides can contaminate the soil, air, water, and other vegetation. Pesticides and herbicides are not only toxic to the target plants or insects, but can kill birds, fish, beneficial insects and non-target vegetation. Fertilizer runoff can contaminate rivers and streams and chemical drift from sprays can cause damage to the surrounding land and water. Then there are the health impacts on farm workers exposed to those toxic chemicals, and their possible health effects on consumers eating food produced with this chemical agriculture.
Organic production offers an alternative, and “people who are doing the right thing anywhere should be supported”, says Rubinson. While supporting local food producers is one of the core values of the Kamloops Food Policy Council, so too is a resilient food system with healthy land and water. Ideally, we can eat local and organic, but when that’s not possible, eating organic and supporting organic producers who are making a positive impact on agriculture, health, and the environment should be our first choice.
We can use our power as consumers to support organic production and encourage more farmers to adapt organic practices. If conventional farmers see they are losing business to the organic competition, they will be more likely to think about getting certified. If you’re at the Farmers’ Market, talk to the uncertified vendors about their farming practices. Organic certification can be a lot of work and takes several years. Some small farmers may be growing organically, but have just not become certified. Whether or not you decide to support them, having the conversation is important.Talk to your grocers and let them know you’d like to see more organic products available. If enough people express interest, they’ll get the message.
For those of us lucky enough to be able to pick and choose, there are many considerations of how best to feed ourselves and our families, and where to spend our food dollars. We want nutritious, healthy food, but also want to support a healthy local economy and a healthy environment. Ideally, we can do all three - by purchasing directly from a local organic farm, or from a retailer that carries local organic products. Of course, in our northern climate, there are limitations to the availability of local fruit and vegetables, but eating seasonally, and throwing our support behind local farmers who are “doing the right thing” can make a big difference.